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Ethics

Strawless Cups, LED Lights, and Other Distractions

The Earth is polluted and dwindling in resources. Scientists universally agree on that, and with the internet it’s easy to find examples of things hurting the environment even if you live somewhere where nature seems healthy. Take a look this video posted by MyWildlifeVideos, for example.

There are plenty of other pictures and videos out there to further explore this topic. For obvious reasons, pollution and deterioration of resources are a major concern. Many cities have been catching the trend to ban things likes straws and plastic bags to make the environment a little healthier. While these initiatives certainly are a step in the right direction, they ignore much larger issue.

Businesses and corporations do the worst damage to the environment. They love to support advertising that encourages people to take little steps in their own lives, which consequently distracts voters from taking action about far-reaching harm caused by corporations. Replacing iridescent lights in your home with LED eliminates some amount of air pollution, but a factory using unsustainable power supplies or an oil rig leaking into the ocean wreaks havoc on the local area. The leftovers in your fridge contribute to food waste, but grocery stores throwing out huge amounts of produce because it appears misshapen is much worse.

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Micro-focusing environmental issues on the individual rather than recognizing them in terms of the bigger picture is a way for larger businesses to stay out of the spotlight. Most of us are aware that businesses have some harmful policies, whether it’s cutting down forests or overfilling landfills, but we shrug and decide that since it’s not our problem we should focus on what we can control. Again, the things we can control do matter, but the things that feel out of our hands matter even more. And just because we feel powerless against these entities doesn’t mean that we actually are as powerless as we feel.

As early as 1955, Reserve Mining Co. was dumping wastes from iron ore deposits into Lake Superior, which borders Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario. These iron taconite wastes contained cancer-causing asbestos and were harming people and killing wildlife. Eventually, local environmentalists took action. After 11 years and many court cases later, Reserve Mining Co. was forced to switch to a more eco-friendly practice in March of 1980.

I remember watching a short segment about the legal battle in a high school social studies class and feeling empowered by the idea that a group of average people could make a huge difference in their community, that they could fight against a huge company and win. It’s the kind of story everyone loves to hear. The message each person should take away from the activists who worked for this change is that we should act towards larger goals instead of feeling content with making individual changes.

So, yes, you should continue to use reusable shopping bags, recycle as much as possible, and make DIY toothpaste to reduce waste. These are important steps, and each time you do something to take care of the environment you slow down it’s decay a little bit. However, there is something much bigger you can do to help: vote.

Vote for politicians who will implement policies to protect the environment. Call or email those already in office and let them know this topic is important to you. If you can, do some research on specific bills that should or shouldn’t be passed, but that’s not a necessary step. The main goal is to create reform on a larger level. Whether that’s a simple action like voting or something more involved like hands-on activism, it’s crucial to achieve widespread change.

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I am a writer, actor, translator, and social activist.

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